You have worked hard to get this project and your client wants you to start immediately. Do you really need a contract? Yes, you do!

Things can change very quickly. The person whose hand you shook a month ago is gone. Your client wants more work for the same price. The dates change. Suddenly the contract is the only thing standing between you and the door.

You don’t need 25 pages of fine print, a simple two-page document will do. While the format is not important, getting it in writing is. Here are some key topics to look for:

1.     Scope of the Project

Your services, project objectives, and the work itself are outlined along with:

  • Tasks, methods, names of those doing the work
  • Start date, duration of the contract, schedule, deliverables
  • Timing and amount of payments
  • Authority to access client facilities, equipment, files, data.
  • Permission to interact with program participants, ethics approvals
  • Travel expense compensation.

2.     A Change Process

This is a critical clause when the scope of work changes. It can be worded in favor of the client so look for balance:

  • Either party can request a change.
  • The process for making a change is described.
  • Any change is confirmed in writing and signed by both parties before additional work begins.

3.     Liabilities and Insurance

Clarity is essential. You may be asked to provide insurance certificates before your contract can be finalized. Make sure that:

  • Your liability is limited regarding the cost of damages, claims, costs, expenses, and losses suffered by your client related to any breach of contract, willful misconduct, or negligence by you, your sub-contractors, or your employees.
  • You have the insurance that you need and that your client requires, typically:
    1. General liability insurance
    2. Automobile insurance
    3. Errors and omissions/professional liability insurance.

4.     Termination

Know the rules of the game and, again, look for balance:

  • Your client can terminate the contract with or without cause, within a specific timeframe, and with written notice to you.
  • You can withdraw from the assignment if a notice period and precise procedures are followed.
  • Project-related materials must be returned by a certain date.
  • Payment should be made up to and including the termination date.

5.     Ownership of data

Expectations about data ownership can differ. You want to use the data in the future or re-use the software or tools you developed in other projects. The client wants to protect sensitive information and assumes all data are theirs. Discuss data ownership before the contract is finalized and look for shared solutions.

Don’t be afraid to ask for contract changes. I have yet to meet the client who won’t revise a contract if a good rationale is provided.


Barrington, G. V. (2012). Consulting Start-up and Management: A Guide for Evaluators and Applied Researchers. Los Angeles: SAGE.

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